Coming Out!

Jim Toledano is a married father of two. Now the Democratic leader is ready for a new role: Gay activist

"I had always assumed that [our marriage troubles] were because of some flaw in my character," Peggy says. "I was actually relieved."

She says Toledano removed his wedding ring after the admission. She kept hers on for "another couple of weeks" until the realization that "Jim is not a person who turns back" sunk in.

No cussing? No lamp throwing? No gunfire?

"Some people would allow the stress of the moment to pour over into anger and vilification and recrimination and name calling. That's wrong," says Peggy, a Quaker. "This has been a very religious experience for me. It has forced me to test my faith and my belief that compassion should be part of our daily lives. I think it was much more traumatic for him because he thought I didn't suspect. My best friend in the world is a gay man (an artist who lives in Laguna Beach), and I knew enough that Jim wasn't going to be able to live comfortably unless he came out. Being gay is a biological fact. In essence, when one is gay, one cannot successfully carry out a fully committed heterosexual marriage, just as one who is heterosexual certainly couldn't carry out a gay marriage and make it work. It's just in the nature of the cells."

Calm, even strangely scientific words for a woman who has lost a husband. Has there been any frustration that she has spent 28 years with a man who now says he is gay?

"Yeah, I have felt that way occasionally," says Peggy. "But it takes a tremendous amount of energy to live my life, and I really don't have any to spare for that kind of issue. I have a kid. I have a house. I have a job. I have the yard. I have two dogs. I have the church. I go to school. [She has been working full-time as a legal secretary for Toledano during days and earning a legal assistant certificate at UCI night school.] I really don't have time but to concentrate on the present and do a really bang-up job there, which I think in the end is very orthodox Christianity."

Although it has been 20 months since Toledano came out to his wife, neither has yet to initiate formal divorce proceedings and Toledano, who is dating, still shares the couples' Costa Mesa home. He sleeps in a converted study. Though Toledano doesn't bring his dates home, some people might wonder why Peggy hasn't thrown him out of the house. "That wouldn't be civil, or compassionate or realistic," she says. "I've got my rules. I don't take care of him. I'm taking this one day at a time. I've worked out my independent ground, and we still enjoy being together . . . [but] it's not moving as fast as I'd like."

There have been opportunities for ugly fireworks, but nothing ignited. Earlier this year, for example, Peggy came face to face with Toledano's male date at a function for the Eleanor Roosevelt Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club, of which Peggy and Toledano are longtime members. She says she chatted briefly with the man, shook his hand and thought, "He's a quality guy." Wasn't she the least bit upset? "No," says Peggy, who has hired an attorney for the upcoming divorce. "I'm not losing anything I ever had."

Despite everything, Toledano sees his wife as special. "If there was some way of keeping Peggy, I'd do it. But life is choices, and the most wonderful thing is that she understands that," he says. "I respect her enormously. She is a wonderful, wonderful person, and I was incapable of focusing on her the way she deserved. . . . There's a part of me that says I should be more embarrassed, but I'm doing what I have to do."

In coming out as a gay man, Toledano has distinguished himself from other county-related political figures—conservatives such as Dornan confidant Brian Bennett and 1994 California Republican U.S. senate nominee Michael Huffington—who in recent years have independently revealed their homosexuality while painstakingly distancing themselves from the "gay community." Bennett, for example, still eagerly stands behind Dornan and his politics of hate and division. Huffington refuses to call himself "gay" because he doesn't identify with other gays. But rather than adopt a pompous gay-loathing style, Toledano has plunged into gay-community political activities. Earlier this year, he took charge of Orange County's campaign against the state Republican Party's latest electoral wedge issue: the anti-gay California Defense of Marriage Act initiative scheduled for the March 2000 ballot. The measure (also known as the Knight Initiative) would permit the state to deny recognition of same-sex marriages.

To some observers taking on what is sure to be a highly emotional battle against religious conservatives while coming out, dating and getting a divorce might seem too much to handle at once. Toledano reacts to such questions with characteristic cockiness. "I will help win this," he says. "I guarantee you."

At least one person shares Toledano's confidence in himself.

"He's not the type of person who is afraid to walk out on a vine over a 200-foot chasm and shout threats at the other side," Peggy says. "He's pretty good at it, actually."

« Previous Page